vision 2020

Andrew Yang Says the Media Is Ignoring Him. Does He Have a Point?

Andrew Yang speaks at the Wing Ding Dinner on August 9, 2019 in Clear Lake, Iowa. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

Now and again, you hear complaints from members of this year’s very large Democratic presidential field — or from their camps or their supporters — that they aren’t getting the media attention they merit. Just today, a media outlet (Axios) made that case for entrepreneur Andrew Yang, noting that while he ranks sixth in the polls (according to RealClearPolitics averages of national surveys) and fourth as the subject of tweets during the first two rounds of candidate debates, he’s only 14th in the number of articles mentioning him so far in the cycle and only 13th in cable-news mentions. Thus, says Axios, “Yang is being treated by the media like a bottom-tier candidate.”

Before you weep bitter tears of anger or sympathy on behalf of the universal-basic-income proponent and mass-unemployment prophet, a little perspective on these rankings is appropriate. Yang’s exalted-sounding poll ranking isn’t so impressive when you realize he’s really just one in a large assortment of candidates polling in the low middle digits in a field dominated by the Big Three of Biden, Sanders, and Warren. Together, the Big Three have 62.5 percent in the polling averages; Yang has 2.5 percent. And Yang isn’t doing nearly so well in polls of the early states that will almost certainly “winnow” the field. In RCP polling averages, he’s running eighth in New Hampshire and Nevada and tenth in Iowa and South Carolina. Polls aside, I personally don’t find the tweets-during-debates number terribly meaningful; it basically shows that the Yang Gang is very active on that medium.

Axios suggests that Yang’s relatively low media-coverage ranking “shows that the press is in unfamiliar territory in covering a candidate from outside the political world who keeps a low profile.” This last phrase is puzzling: a candidate who “keeps a low profile” is obviously doing less of the things that justify media coverage. But for a candidate “outside the political world,” it’s interesting that Yang’s getting more media coverage (according to these same rankings) than a U.S. Senator (Michael Bennet) and at least two U.S. House members. All media coverage, moreover, isn’t a good thing for candidates. Axios mentions Bill de Blasio as someone whose level of coverage isn’t justified by his poll standing. Most of his coverage has been negative and often derisive.

Having said all that, I can give another reason Yang isn’t getting heavy coverage: At this point, he has no plausible path to the Democratic presidential nomination. None of the demographics where most of his strength lies — millennials and Asian-American voters — have disproportionate clout in any of the early states. He’s at one percent in California, which does have a large Asian-American population. Unlike another businessman-outsider, Tom Steyer, Yang has no vast personal wealth with which to buy support. Sure, you could argue that he’s no less likely to win than several other candidates who are getting more media attention, but that’s sort of the point: None of them are. Yes, that could change if Yang has a breakthrough performance in the October and November debates, but you know what? If that happens, his media coverage will skyrocket too.

There’s one more line in that Axios piece that I suspect is the real source of this and other complaints about “unconventional candidates” not being taken seriously enough:

This isn’t the first time the media has struggled with how to cover an unconventional candidate. HuffPost famously made the decision to include news about Donald Trump’s candidacy as part of its “entertainment” coverage.

Unfortunately, too many people are taking the Trump precedent to mean that anybody can be elected president and that any objective indicators suggesting otherwise are suspect. It has been forgotten that Trump began the 2016 presidential cycle with the kind of national celebrity that no amount of money can buy or campaign media coverage can match. The month after he announced his candidacy, Gallup showed him with 92 percent name ID (as compared with 81 percent for Jeb Bush, the two-term major-state governor and son and brother of presidents with the same last name). A month after Yang announced his 2020 candidacy, his name ID was in the 20s; it’s now up to 46 percent.

There’s only one Donald Trump, praise the Lord. Let’s stop using him to talk ourselves into believing any under-covered candidate could win with a little more attention.

Why the Media Isn’t Covering Andrew Yang